In his proposed biennial capital budget, Gov. Tony Evers wants to spend $2.5 billion on public building projects. About half of that money would go to University of Wisconsin facilities, including a new $130 million chemistry building at UW-Milwaukee.
On Thursday, UW System President Ray Cross held a press conference to rally support for the proposed chemistry building replacement.
The current building is more than 40 years old and requires frequent maintenance and repairs, according to officials.
"A lot of times our research is actually delayed because of ventilation issues, power outages," says biochemistry graduate student Amanda Nieman. She's studying ways to treat asthma without inhalers and pain without opioids. But she says the aging building sometimes gets in the way.
The chemistry building was constructed in 1972. It serves more than 2,000 students each year, including chemistry majors and students pursuing degrees in healthcare and other STEM fields.
Cross says the UWM chemistry building is in the worst condition of all science buildings across UW campuses. That's why it's the system's top priority for replacement. But to do that, it needs state funding.
"It's really important in this day and age that if we're going to build Wisconsin's economy tomorrow, we have to do some things today," Cross says. "We can't keep kicking this can down the road."
Former Gov. Scott Walker chose to delay many university building projects during his tenure. His last two capital budget requests were less than half of what Evers is asking for.
Tim Sheehy of the Metro Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce emphasizes the chemistry building's economic importance.
"What we need to do in a very simple sense is make sure the Legislature understands that we cannot continue to fuel our economy with a chemistry building that ranks in the worst shape of any science facility on a UW campus," Sheehy says.
Now, the question is which capital projects will make it through the GOP-controlled Legislature. Evers' proposal would require $2 billion in new borrowing. Some Republican lawmakers say it's too much.
The capital budget will also be vetted by the State Building Commission, which meets March 20.
Have a question about education you'd like WUWM's Emily Files to dig into? Submit it below.